by Fred Reyes, Senior Director of Camps & Recreation, Deer Run Camps & Retreats
For six summers, middle school through high school, I was positively impacted by camp experiences that were combined with hands-on missions. My life was molded by youth pastors, counselors and lay leaders who invested, educated and trained me in my spiritual formation. As much as they taught me the power of who Christ is in my life, they also showed me how to LIVE OUT Christ in practical forms of service. As a youth leader, you too can have that same lifelong impact on the lives of youth who you have influence over.
Though camp experiences can be life changing, looking beyond oneself provides a great experience for heightened growth in a youth’s spiritual walk. Invest in your youth through training, raising resources (fundraisers or support letters), then taking them on a mission trip to serve others and learn about people OUTSIDE THEIR COMFORT ZONE. Minister in environments you are unaccustomed to. The ability to BE STRETCHED beyond our norms and UTILIZE OUR GIFTS to share Christ with others in tangible ways often blesses us immeasurably more than those we serve. It is an opportunity for a first-hand encounter with Christ that cannot be experienced through the comfort of home.
Consider combining your annual camp retreat with a mission trip experience. Stay at a camp or retreat center while MINISTERING to the local impoverished community. This idea of sacrificial service combined with a camp-like experience has many values including meeting the needs of others plus growing your youth in their relationships to each other and with Christ.
Begin your experience by providing team building through a low ropes experience to help deeper relationships, communication and leadership skills within your group. Schedule mission work during mornings and early afternoon, then while back at camp you can debrief and enjoy fellowship, recreation and worship. Many camps or retreat centers will also pack a meal for your group to take to the onsite mission locations plus provide meals at camp … allowing your group the opportunity to focus on the goals of the mission work and enjoying your time at camp.
Of the challenges facing youth leaders today, engaging students to MAKE A DIFFERENCE in the lives of others continues to be a priority. You are tasked with building relationships, discipleship, life-training and spiritual education. One good way to do that is to help youth focus on others rather than themselves. Therefore many youth leaders are choosing this model by finding a camp or retreat center in an area where they can secure mission sites to serve daily.
Dream beyond a camp experience and grow the depth of passion to serve Christ by providing a combined camp and mission experience. Find a ministry location that is in close proximity to mission sites such as food banks, homeless shelters and Christian owned thrift stores or farms. Challenge your youth to give sacrificially outside of their comfort zone while experiencing rich fellowship and discipleship in a camp setting. Your youth will be positively impacted just as I was as they give of themselves in new ways and make a difference in the world they live in.
We are hearing from numerous youth ministers that during this season their plate is just too full. Caring for others is a ministry staple, but often it comes at the expense of caring for oneself. Self care for the Youth MInister is so important. If you don’t take time for yourself and your own relationship with God, not only will you suffer, but eventually your students will too.
We’ve created a Pandemic Youth Week curriculum bundle that combines elements of both a summer camp and a youth week. Many youth are missing out on both of these due to cancelled camps and trips among other cancelled important events your youth would usually attend. We’ve written this curriculum such that it can be used in person while socially distancing, online, or some combination of both.
Despite all the challenges the pandemic has presented to youth ministries, it has also created an opportunity to allow youth more involvement in worship. Although youth sunday will look very different this year, it is a great opportunity to empower our youth to be leaders. Youth’s comfort and familiarity with technology make them a great resource for churches who are seeking to move their worship services online for the first time.